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Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive, right, presents the MVP trophy to Auburn's Tre Mason after the 2013 SEC football championship game against Missouri. Slive steps aside today.

There was no shortage of news at the Southeastern Conference spring meetings this past week in Destin, Fla.

League commissioner Mike Slive sharply stiffened penalties for fans storming football fields and basketball courts, and the league banned accepting transfers who have been dismissed because of assault and domestic violence charges. SEC football coaches remain largely opposed to an early signing period in mid-December, while basketball rivalries such as Kentucky-Tennessee were enhanced when the conference increased the number of permanent annual opponents in league play from one to three.

Yet the meetings also served as a four-day tribute to Slive, whose tenure as commissioner finishes today. The 74-year-old Slive, who last fall began treatment for a recurrence of prostate cancer, was originally scheduled to step aside July 31. Instead, executive associate commissioner Greg Sankey will take over Monday.

Slive was appointed the league's seventh commissioner on June 2, 2002.

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Coach Mark Richt participates in a news conference in this Dec. 29, 2014, file photo.
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Alabama head coach Nick Saban, center, calls drills as his team warms up before the 2014 Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma in New Orleans.

"If you look at where the league was then and where it is now, we've come a long way," Georgia football coach Mark Richt told reporters at the Sandestin Beach Hilton. "His leadership has been great, and when he's spoken, people have really listened and have truly respected what he had to say."

Richt is entering his 15th season with the Bulldogs but was entering his second when Slive was hired. Slive had been the Conference USA commissioner, and he took over a league better known at that time for cheating than championships in its most profitable sport.

During the 2002 football season, Alabama won 10 games under Dennis Franchione and Kentucky won seven under Guy Morriss, but neither program was eligible for a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions that resulted from violations under previous coaching regimes.

"We had a lot of issues in the league at that time," said Alabama coach Nick Saban, who had perched LSU as the league's reigning champ when Slive was hired. "There were a lot of people on probation, and there were a lot of people out there sort of talking about things that created a negative image for our league. He has done a marvelous job of cleaning that up, as well as elevating the image with marketing and TV.

"He's done it in a way where he's very diplomatic in how he treated all the folks he's had to deal with. He's always been very fair to me, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and really do appreciate all that he's done."

The SEC has won 81 NCAA titles in 19 different sports during Slive's 13 seasons. That includes two by Florida and one by Kentucky in men's basketball and two by Tennessee in women's basketball, and there have been a staggering eight national championships in football.

Saban coached LSU to the 2003 BCS championship and has since led Alabama to titles in 2009, '11 and '12. The league set a standard that may never be broken with seven straight national championships from 2006 to 2012, with Florida claiming two and Auburn and LSU one each during that run.

There were 15-year television agreements with CBS and ESPN that coincided with the SEC's football success, and last August the league launched the lucrative SEC Network through ESPN.

But Slive hearkens back to his early days as his most rewarding.

"When we first came, we were mired in a lot of infractions cases," Slive said last summer on "Press Row" on ESPN 105.1 FM. "We could never be who we wanted to be unless that was taken care of, and I think we've done a nice job of changing that culture. Those were the first questions I was getting asked, and now people don't even think of asking me about it. It was a mess, but it's all done, and that's a huge change.

"The other area was that we had never had a minority head football coach, and it was a big story when Sylvester Croom was hired at Mississippi State. Now we've had five (with Croom, Kevin Sumlin, Joker Phillips, James Franklin and Derek Mason), and it's a non-issue. Once we took care of those two things, I think it's no coincidence that we've seen a meteoric rise in this league."

In 13 years as commissioner, Slive announced a record revenue distribution 13 times. This year's total of $455.8 million that was revealed Friday dwarfs the $309.6 million from a year ago, with revenue from the SEC Network helping allow each member institution to pocket $31.2 million after netting $20.9 million last year.

Adding Missouri and Texas A&M in the summer of 2012 created scheduling challenges that have further diminished some of the league's former football rivalries -- Auburn used to play Florida and Tennessee on an annual basis but will now face each program twice every 12 years -- but Slive will leave a thriving legacy.

The SEC announced a revenue distribution of $96 million several days before his appointment, with Friday's total more than quadrupling that. Richt and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier toasted Slive this past week, and the 14 men's basketball coaches gave him a standing ovation.

"This seemed to be the right time and the right place to make this transition," an emotional Slive said Friday in a news conference. "This has been the best 13 years of my life."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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